NIH News Release
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH

National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 5, 2001
NIEHS Tom Hawkins
(919) 541-1402

NIEHS and Five Research Organizations Join to Use Genomics to Study Toxicological and Environmental Health Problems

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences today announced five-year grants totaling more than $37 million to five academic research organizations that will join with NIEHS to form a Toxicogenomics Research Consortium.

Each of the academic research organizations will receive more than $7 million over five years for studies using recent advances in genomics to study toxicological and environmental health problems, NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., said.

Grants to the organizations were awarded on a competitive basis after the organizations responded to a request for applications issued by NIEHS.

Each research organization has its own area of expertise to bring to the effort, but collectively, the consortium will use genomics to understand how disease occurs, identify potential environmental hazards, predict potential disease, identify exposed individuals and prevent disease.

The consortium will coordinate efforts by NIEHS staff scientists at the headquarters facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C., with those of scientist grantees at five major research organizations around the country.

"We know we can stretch the research dollar by having scientists at NIEHS and grantees at universities work in concert," Dr. Olden said. "But perhaps more important, we know that bringing ideas together in science increases the advances we achieve."

Each of the Consortium components, called Cooperative Research Members, has its own principal investigator(s) and its own areas of expertise and emphasis. Beginning with the NIEHS, they are as follows:


National Center for Toxicogenomics

NCT Overview

Background

Astounding progress has been made in sequencing and characterizing the human genome. This progress has been so fast that a complete first draft of the human genome sequence was announced in June 2000, far sooner than expected by many experts in the field. The human genome project and other genome sequencing projects have accelerated progress in many important scientific areas. In addition, important new scientific methods based on advances in genomics have recently emerged. In particular, vastly powerful new technologies have been developed for expression profiling of mRNAs and proteins. As a result of these advances, important scientific questions that have long been intractable to toxicology and environmental health are now open to investigation.

Toxicologists can utilize these new methods to obtain a more fundamental understanding of chemical- and drug-induced disease processes. cDNA microarray and proteomics technologies assess changes in gene expression on a genome-wide basis, providing a "global" perspective about how an organism responds to a specific stress, drug, or toxicant. This information can define cellular networks of response genes, identify target molecules of toxicity, provide future biomarkers and alternative testing procedures, and identify individuals with increased susceptibility to environmental agents and/or drugs. These are but a few of the difficult issues which these new tools will help to resolve.

The field of toxicology is extremely diverse and its research community is crowded with competing and collaborating participants. The stakeholders include members of the pharmaceutical, chemical and consumer product industry, academic scientists, regulatory agencies and federal research organizations, in addition to the private citizens. Toxicogenomics is a new scientific field that elucidates the genomic response of organisms exposed to environmental toxicants. It is clear that advances in toxicogenomics will be more rapid and efficient if these stakeholders join forces and work together in a coordinated manner.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is uniquely positioned to coordinate an effort directed toward centralizing activities in the field of toxicogenomics and allowing free distribution of information associated with investigations centered on discovery of genome-environment interactions. Thus, NIEHS has established the National Center for Toxicogenomics (NCT) to coordinate an international research effort to develop the field of toxicogenomics. The NCT will provide a unified strategy, a public database, and develop the informatics infrastructure to promote the development of the field of toxicogenomics. NIEHS will pay special attention to toxicogenomics as applied to the prevention of environmentally-related diseases. The NCT will work to allow all partners in this unprecedented enterprise to share equally in its benefits and achievements.